14725 Thu, 06/19/2008 - 3:16pm
By Allison Zisko
NEW YORK–Anxious to snag a piece of the growing American cutlery market, European vendors who want to break into the business here are eyeing opportunities in the premium price-point range.
Cutlery is not a booming business, but with a steady 2 to 3 percent annual growth rate, it is a viable one. Last year, sales of knives and accessories, such as cutting boards, totaled roughly $223.7 million in retail dollar sales, according to The NPD Group. Consumer interest in and knowledge of knives have grown, thanks to celebrity chefs and televised cooking programs, prompting manufacturers both here and abroad to broaden and deepen their assortment to include more high-end goods.
The European manufacturers who want to establish themselves here share similar traits, including long histories of knife-making and a commitment to European manufacturing. Most of them are familiar with the American market as private-label or back-of-the house suppliers, but want to promote their own brand name. They are focused on the independent specialty store channel, where they believe knowledgeable consumers will be willing to pay top dollar for a knife.
Arcos, founded in 1875 and based in Abacete, Spain, has sold its Spanish-made products in the United States for a decade, primarily as a private-label resource and in business-incentive programs, though it also supplied one high-end specialty store chain.
“Americans love tools,” said Sebastian Arredondo Ruiz, export director. “We think we have the right tools for the right jobs.”
The retail market offers more opportunity for branding, according to Arredondo Ruiz, who believes more affluent American consumers will be less affected by the downturn in the American economy and will be receptive to high-end goods.
Arcos has teamed up with an American cutting board company, whose name he declined to reveal, to develop joint projects. It also plans to introduce a knife with a 100 percent recycled handle to the American market later this year.
RH Forschner by Victorinox established a foothold in the American market in 1855, when it began providing equipment and services to Connecticut butchers. It has sold to professional cutlery shops since 1983 and began to focus on housewares retailers and independent gourmet stores, three years ago. It is targeting knowledgeable consumers “who desire truly professional, premium-quality, high-precision forged or stamped blades,” according to Tom Lawler, vice president of sales for the cutlery division, and has a two-pronged distribution strategy. Its Victorinox Professional Forged collection is limited to the specialty retailers who can communicate the professional quality of the collection, Lawler said, while the commercial-grade stamped collection is geared to a broader distribution of retailers who are willing to promote “a high-quality, best-in-class product story.”
The forged collection ranges from $120 for an 8-inch chef’s knife to $1,250 for the 17-piece block set. Stamped pieces range from $40 for a 7-inch santoku to $258 for an eight-piece block set.
Victorinox, which manufactures in Solingen, Germany, hopes to parlay its reputation among back-of-the-house professionals into a well-recognized brand among consumers and sees opportunities with traditional housewares retailers.
“There are many fine names in the U.S. market,” Lawler said. “However, we offer a truly professional line; time-tested, commercial-grade product line.”
Solicut, a Solingen, Germany based company, has not been around as long as Arcos or Victorinox, but it is just as determined to make a name for itself in the United States. The brand is about 10 years old and was introduced to the American market last August. It sees the United States as one of the top markets in the world, according to Bob Montagno, general manager of Solicut America, which is headquartered in Los Angeles. Its fully forged handmade First Class line, made solely in Solingen, includes three handle options: black POM, olive wood and kingwood. Prices for an 8-inch chef’s knife range from $140 to $176, depending on the handle material. There is also Absolute ML, a “super premium” Damascus-style blade.
The company is targeting high-end specialty stores. Montagno said the upper-price-point range, as exemplified by Wusthof-Trident’s Classic collection, is too crowded with competitors and Solicut is therefore targeting the premium price-point level.
“There’s a lot of good product out there,” he said. “We’re trying to distinguish ourselves through our wood handles.”